British Columbia

Former West Vancouver mayor fined $20K after accepting $75K gift from godmother

A lawyer and former mayor of West Vancouver has been fined for accepting a $75,000 cash gift from his elderly godmother and helping her rewrite her will in the years leading up to her death.

Lawyer Mark Sager committed misconduct for taking gift, helping write woman's will: Law Society of B.C.

Former West Vancouver mayor Mark Sager started his own law firm after leaving public office in 1996. (CBC)

A lawyer and former mayor of West Vancouver has been fined for accepting a $75,000 cash gift from his elderly godmother and helping rewrite her will in the years leading up to her death.

Mark Sager has been ordered to pay $20,000, less than a third of the money he received, after an investigation by the Law Society of B.C. wrapped up last week.

That investigation found Sager committed professional misconduct by taking the money from his godmother in 2014. It also found he broke the rules by helping her update her will. In the new version, which he instructed an associate to prepare, Sager was added as a beneficiary while J.B.'s biological niece was written out.

"The nature and gravity of the respondent's [Sager's] conduct is such that it requires a clear message to be sent both to the respondent and to the profession that such conflicts must be avoided," the panel wrote in its most recent decision on June 9.

Sager served as mayor of West Vancouver from 1990 to 1996, and has spent the past two decades running his own law firm. He lost a bid for re-election as mayor in 2018. 

'Auntie J'

The misconduct surrounds Sager's relationship with an aunt-like figure he'd known as "Auntie J" since he was a child. The law society said the woman, identified only as J.B., was a longtime, "very close friend" of Sager's mother. 

The society said Sager helped rewrite J.B.'s will, represented her in her divorce, and helped her estranged husband buy her out of her home after she asked for his help in 2012.

Sager would ultimately be written into J.B.'s new will, while her biological niece was removed.

Sager received about $200,000 when J.B. died in 2016. Sager was also executor of the will. 

Mark Sager served as mayor of West Vancouver from 1990 to 1996, when he was in his 30s. He ran for mayor again in 2018, but was unsuccessful. (Facebook)

The law society launched an investigation after J.B.'s younger sister complained in 2017.

During hearings, Sager admitted to what had happened but said it wasn't professional misconduct. He said he didn't know he was breaking the rules because they'd only been added to the B.C. Code for lawyers in 2013.

Lawyers in the province cannot accept a gift that is "more than nominal" from a client, no matter their previous relationship, unless that client has had independent legal advice about the gift.

When it came to disciplinary action, Sager argued a suspension would be "a wholly unfair and disproportionate" penalty. He also said a "heavy fine" of more than $20,000 would be unnecessary.

The society issued the fine, but decided against suspending Sager because the panel found his behaviour, though inappropriate, wasn't rooted in dishonesty or negligence. The panel also noted Sager does not have a history of personal or professional misconduct.

On top of the fine, Sager must also pay $20,225 to cover the costs of the society's investigation.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Sager directly wrote himself into his godmother's will. In fact, while he had preliminary involvement in drafting the will, the document was prepared by an associate. The earlier version also incorrectly stated Sager received $300,000 after his godmother's death. In fact, he received $200,000.
    Jun 18, 2020 7:05 AM PT

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